Read I'm Not High Online

Authors: Jim Breuer

I'm Not High (7 page)

BOOK: I'm Not High
8.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
“No!” I said, angry to be woken up.
“Yeah?” he said. “Horseshit! The front end of the car is in the bushes. Why don’t you get up and move the car before your mother wakes up, dummy.”
“I wasn’t drunk, Dad.”
“Okay. Sure thing, hotshot. Go move the car.” He’d never give me a whole speech. He’d just say, “Don’t bullshit a bullshitter.” That was his favorite saying.
When I got to Valley Stream Central High School, I met a kid who blew my mind: Jimmy Sciacca. He was as much into music as I was into making people laugh. He was fearless about doing what he loved and I guess it eventually rubbed off on me. Every year, the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades would spend a week battling each other in sports, music, and sketches. When we were seniors, the theme of Sketch Night was for some reason the Bible. Jimmy was one of the writers for the event, and he approached me in the hallway one morning.
“Jim, you gotta be in Sketch Night.”
“I can’t do that, man.” I was back to being somewhat shy about showing off my gift onstage. It was easy for me to be funny when it was just me with a friend one-on-one, or with a group of people in an informal setting, but I’d gotten away from organized performing and hadn’t done any theater for a while. I didn’t fit in with the drama kids. “I’m not into that crowd,” I explained.
“Jimbo,” he said, “it’s not like that. Get off the sidelines. There’s no egos. You just gotta come down, hang, and see what it’s all about.”
Jimmy had taken Bill Cosby’s bit on Noah’s Ark and basically rewritten it. He showed me what he had done and said, “I think you’d be perfect for this.”
The bit starts while Noah is in his woodworking shop. God’s voice chimes in saying, “Hello, Noah?”
Noah says, “Who is this?”
“God.”
“No, really . . .
who
is this?”
“God. Listen, I need you to build an ark.”
“What’s an ark?”
That bit is so genius. I reluctantly went with Jimmy to a rehearsal and met the drama kids, and they turned out to be cool. They were in agreement that I should do “Noah’s Ark.” Still, I didn’t think I could make it funny.
“You like Eddie Murphy, right?” Jimmy asked me.
“He’s the best.” I had just seen him at the Westbury Music Fair and would copy his routine word for word while wearing a Walkman down in my parents’ basement, pretending I was onstage. He was a tremendous influence on my comedy career.
“So do it in his voice,” Jimmy said. “Imagine how he would do it.” This was easy because I basically spent my life imitating his laugh, the way he walked, the way he talked, and all of his bits.
So that’s how I practiced it, and that’s how I did it in front of the whole school. When God asked me to build the ark so many cubits by so many cubits, I said, “Say what? I don’t know no darn cubit!” Today it might seem racially insensitive, but as a kid growing up on Long Island in the early 1980s, it felt like the ultimate tribute. I even copied his laugh—the one where it sounds like rapid, deep little wheezes. The crowd went bonkers and I felt the same rush I did when I made the girl on the porch laugh, only this was ten times more.
The next day at school, girls looked at me differently, stopping to say, “You were sooo funny.” Guys who’d thus far ignored me said, “You’re a pisser, Breuer. We gotta hang out!” It was so popular that there was an encore performance of Sketch Night, and all the kids, knowing what was coming, started chanting, “Noah! Noah!” before I went onstage. And as I stood behind the curtain and peeked out into the crowd, I saw jocks, punks, nerds, and parents all harmoniously unified. It was a rush seeing them all brought together through humor. I told myself, “I have to be a comedian.”
I was voted class clown my graduating year, and that summer when Jimmy’s band played gigs at little clubs on Long Island, they asked me to warm up the crowd. I’d unleash my AC/DC and Ozzy impressions, and then I would say, “And now, for a band that needs no introduction . . . ,” and just walk off the stage without actually introducing them. By the end of the summer, I did my first open mic night at Governor’s Comedy Club. I had bits about city pigeons who are mad at humans, how people freak out about spiders, and about sneaking into the house drunk. The crowd was small, just my friends, my sister Dorene, and her friends. But still I was shocked when I was not approached by a Hollywood agent or manager after the gig. I was certain a five-picture movie deal couldn’t be far away.
Mom and Dad’s plans for my future included more than just jumping onstage at rock clubs on Long Island. To appease them, I enrolled at Nassau Community College in the fall of 1985.
“You should take some bookkeeping classes,” my mom said. My older half brother Eddie was a successful executive in magazine publishing in Manhattan. Looking at what he’d done, they didn’t see how being a comedian was a viable job. But I dreaded even contemplating a nine-to-five life. What I’d been exposed to my senior year had stoked a fire inside of me. No one was ever going to give me a standing ovation for my bookkeeping work or chant, “Accounting! Accounting!” to me in the parking lot as I showed up for a desk job.
As my first few classes dragged by, that thought kept racing through my mind. My accounting professor surveyed the classroom one morning and offered this frank advice: “If you think you’re going to fail this class, or if you don’t want to be here anymore, this is the very last day you can get a ‘withdrawal.’ After today, you’ll get an F if you don’t complete your work. So, if anyone here still wants a W, please get up and leave the class.”
He hadn’t even finished his sentence by the time I got up and started walking toward the door. The whole class started cracking up, but I didn’t care. In my heart, I had made the right decision. I went right over to the drama building and changed my major to acting. When I got home, I told my parents what I’d done.
“It’s the end of the discussion,” I said. “If you want me to pursue a higher education, then I’m gonna do it through acting.”
My mom was concerned, but my dad was supportive. “Do it while you’re young,” he said, shrugging. “Get it out of your system.”
The kids hanging around the theater department weren’t much different from the Sketch Night kids at high school, except many of them just seemed content to be able to say, “We’re in theater.” I was there to become a star. I was going to get discovered, because Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal, and Robert Klein all went to this college. In the future, they’d be saying Jim Breuer went there.
I had a Judas Priest denim jacket, I wore a lightning bolt earring, and I could act. I carried myself in a manner that said, “I’ll be seeing you at the Oscars, or actually I won’t, ’cause you guys will be watching me at home.”
I got one of the leads in the play
Wait Until Dark.
My character was a thug who got stabbed to death while greedily rummaging through a blind woman’s apartment trying to locate some stashed heroin. You might have seen the movie version, which starred Audrey Hepburn. I was psyched, because I got to roll down a flight of stairs. The next semester’s play was
When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?
The lead had to be really solid, as there was a scene in a diner that went on uninterrupted for like an hour where the character takes the place over, mentally breaking down every person there. He gets a chick to suck face with him, then makes a musician sit and write a song on the spot and perform it.
The auditions were happening during the production of
Wait Until Dark,
and I remember my major rival, a guy named Bobby Mayor, feeling me out, seeing if I was up for the challenge.
“It’s a lot of work,” he said. “We’re so busy with this play. It’s going to be really tough.”
I think he was hoping I’d say, “Yeah, you’re right. I’m going to sit this one out.” But I wanted it. I even threw a chair in the audition. I was a violent animal in that room. And I won the lead role. It was my favorite play I did at school. In the middle of it, one of the characters, a woman, revolts against my mind games and slaps me in the face. I knew I had nailed the role because when we performed it the audience always exploded during that scene.
After I got the lead in
The Glass Menagerie,
one of the professors said I should focus on building sets because more students needed to get a shot at performing—they were becoming disillusioned. I was angry. I had no idea you could be too successful. Looking back on it, I wish someone would have just pointed me to auditions outside of the school and inspired me to keep pursuing acting in some other way. Instead, I was blackballed.
Chapter 3
Florida Bound ... and Gagged
After I’d done about a year and a half at Nassau Community College, I got some unwelcome news. My parents decided they were ready to leave New York. They wanted to move to Florida. Our neighborhood was changing, they wanted to retire, and moving down there was the thing to do then.
When my mom told me they were going to look at homes in Florida, I thought she was kidding.
“She’s serious,” my dad said insistently. This was during the phase where my dad was doing whatever my mom asked him to. (Actually that phase has lasted about forty years.) But I fought them tooth and nail on it for a few days. I didn’t want to go. I was a kid from Long Island. What was I gonna do in Florida?
They went down there and started looking at houses. On the second day of their trip, I was sitting around our house moping, and the phone rang. I picked it up. My mom was freaking out.
“Oh. My. God!” she shrieked. I thought maybe my dad had gone missing or they’d been robbed or something.
“What’s going on?” I asked. I was panicking. I heard a shuffling of the receiver, then my dad’s voice.
“We were looking at houses,” he said, then he paused, like there was something he didn’t quite know how to tell me.
“And?” I asked. “What happened? What happened?”
“There was an alligator in the backyard,” Dad said, sounding perturbed. “This place is not for me.”
When they hung up, I was like, “Nice!” I assumed they were packing their bags and coming back home, and that would be the end of the Florida business. When they came home a couple days later, Mom was all smiles. I assumed she was happy about coming to her friggin’ senses.
“We bought a house!” she squealed in a singsong voice. “We’re moving to Florida!” She was wearing a two-piece velour sweat suit, typical Mom-wear. And as she broke the news, she did a
Price Is Right
-contestant dance, like when they get called down for the Showcase Showdown. She was over the moon. I guess she figured she’d play the odds when it came to alligator attacks.
I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know much about how banks worked, but I was skeptical that all the paperwork could be done in such a short time. And I was pissed that they’d made such a rash decision.
“What do you mean you bought a house?” I yelled. “What are you talking about?”
“You’re gonna love it,” my mom said. “It’s right by the Gulf.”
“I’m not going,” I said. “I’m not a retiree.”
“If you stay here,” my mom asked, “where are you gonna live?”
I had no idea. I wanted independence, but I wasn’t
that
independent yet. I was a student who worked at Sears part-time in the paint department. There was no way I could swing paying rent on my own while remaining in school. I was mad and I was determined not to go. But by the middle of 1987, I found myself moving to Palm Harbor, Florida. It was just north of Tampa/St. Petersburg. So long, community college. So long, acting in plays. So long, comedy.
I didn’t have much to pack except the giant chip on my shoulder. I wasn’t going to give Florida a chance. Not for one second. We were moving to a little cul-de-sac. A new development on an extremely quiet, dead, boring street. It was nothing remotely like Valley Stream. There were maybe about twenty houses, tops, and some of them weren’t even finished yet, including ours.
So for the first couple weeks, I had to live with my mom and dad at a Days Inn in Clearwater, Florida. I wasn’t just depressed about the move. I was livid. Each night, it was either watch cable with my parents (and not have possession of the remote control), hang out by the empty swimming pool, or go out.
Well, one night, I chose going out. I went to a place called Swampwater Al’s. I just sat there drinking vodka-and-cranberries trying to forget about how lame everything was. Looking back, I know that was probably the luckiest night of my life, because I
drove
back to the hotel after that. I don’t remember an inch of that drive. I only remember ordering my first couple of drinks and then, a few hours later, waking up projectile vomiting from my bed, straight over onto my parents’ bed in our room at the Days Inn.
My dad woke up, obviously, and emitted his own stream—of curse words. He and my mom were covered in puke. Not a chunk or two here and there. Not splattered. They were now wearing puke pajamas. You could have gone swimming in their bed. It was like
The Exorcist.
The smell was unreal. I swear the puke left my body like I was a fire hose. And there weren’t enough towels to clean it up.
BOOK: I'm Not High
8.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Lady Revealed by Jane Charles
Heartbreaker by Diana Palmer
The Midas Murders by Pieter Aspe
The Wild Dark Flowers by Elizabeth Cooke
Solitary Man by Carly Phillips
A Cage of Roots by Matt Griffin
Three Little Maids by Patricia Scott
Morte by Robert Repino